An Alaska Seaplanes aircraft crashed Monday morning near Coghlan Island in Auke Bay on a flight from Skagway to Juneau, but its four passengers and pilot are uninjured.
Capital City Fire/Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Ed Quinto confirmed the five people were wet — they had to swim to the island — but unharmed.
According to the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, the small plane’s automated distress beacon activated at 6:35 a.m., not long after its pilot radioed the Juneau airport and reported engine trouble. That account of events was confirmed in a press release from Carl Ramseth, general manager of Alaska Seaplanes.
National Transportation Safety Board aviation accident investigator Noreen Price is working with a Federal Aviation Administration investigator in Juneau to determine what happened. Price interviewed 33-year-old pilot Joshua Dee Poirier by phone soon after the accident.
“He had a complete loss of engine power,” she said.
Three miles from the airport and nearing ground level, Poirier had no way to reach the runway. He turned the plane and ditched in the ocean about 80 feet from the eastern shore of Coghlan Island.
“The pilot did a great job of managing this,” Price said.
Quinto said by phone that his department received a call for help as this was happening. Rescue crews went to Don D. Statter Memorial Harbor and prepared to help, but the pilot and passengers “were close enough to shore that all five people were able to swim to shore,” Quinto said.
A Temsco helicopter also responded and confirmed all five were on Coghlan Island, Quinto said.
Price said the accident happened so quickly that neither the passengers nor the pilot had time to don life jackets.
“By the time they knew they were ditching in water, it was too late,” she said.
According to Alaska State Troopers, an Alaska Seaplanes floatplane picked up all four passengers from Coghlan Island while the pilot, Poirier, remained on the beach before being picked up by Coastal Helicopters.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class John Paul Rios said the Coast Guard was preparing to assist as well, but by the time it arrived on scene, the passengers had already been picked up. Quinto said the passengers were taken to Alaska Seaplanes’ facility in Juneau, where they were examined by medics and found to be unharmed.
The plane sank after landing in the water, Troopers said.
In his press release, Ramseth said the National Transportation Safety Board has released custody of the plane back to Alaska Seaplanes, allowing it to be recovered, “and we’ll be cooperating with them to determine the cause of the accident. We commend the actions of the pilot through this emergency and are very thankful for the outcome.”
The Coast Guard team responding to the crash was subsequently sent (with Troopers and SEADOGS) to assist a missing hiker on Sullivan Island, just south of the Chilkat Peninsula. That hiker was found on the beach unharmed by a good Samaritan boat, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Charly Hengen.
The crashed plane was a Cessna 207 built in 1974 and registered to Kalinin Partners, LLC. The plane’s last airworthiness certificate was dated Jan. 5, 2016.
Price said the plane will be taken to a hangar where the FAA investigator and NTSB will examine it and the plane’s maintenance records to determine what caused the accident.
She added that the crash should remind passengers to dress for outside conditions and listen to their emergency briefings: No one expects an emergency, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.
Correction: The last name of pilot Joshua Dee Poirier was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. It is Poirier, not Poirer. In addition, the date of the aircraft’s airworthiness certificate was incorrect. It was issued Jan. 5, 2016, not Sept. 25, 2015. The aircraft was registered with the FAA on that date. Initial reports incorrectly labeled the aircraft a floatplane.
Contact reporter James Brooks at email@example.com or call 523-2258.